petite anglaise

October 30, 2006


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 1:54 pm

“But I want my Auntie R to read me a story,” Tadpole cries.

I feel another of her little tantrums coming on. We seem to be going through a particularly wilful phase, and a typical exchange tends to involve me patiently explaining why something she wants can’t actually happen right now, and Tadpole replying “but I WANT TO!” approximately fifty times. It usually ends in tears and “time out”, whereby I shut her in the bedroom and keep repeating that she can come out when she’s ready to calm down and be reasonable. I thought the cycle might be broken while we were staying with my folks, but no such luck. Some holiday this is turning out to be.

The silver lining is that I’ve been able to get quite a bit of reading done while sitting outside her bedroom door, listening with one ear to make sure she is not wreaking revenge by shredding a box of tissues or writing on the wallpaper with marker pens.

Tadpole’s latest protest, however, is going to require very careful handling indeed. Auntie R, Tadpole’s favourite person in the world, was admitted to hospital while Tadpole and I were out visiting a friend of mine.

“Darling,” I begin, wanting her to understand, without being unduly traumatised. “Your Auntie R is poorly. She would love to read you a story, but she had to go to the hospital to get better.” My youngest sister, doubled up with stomach pains, has suspected gallstones and is laid up, connected to various tubes, awaiting the results of various tests and a possible operation. Luckily, she was off work at the time, staying with my parents so that she could spend time with her favourite niece during our stay in England. At least this means that she is in a hospital close to home, and my parents and I are on hand.

“But,” Tadpole replies, in the whining voice I dread, “if she’s poorly, why don’t we give her some magic pink medicine*? Then she’ll be better. And then she can read my story!”

“Well. When you are a little bit poorly, medicine helps,” I explain, anxious not to play down the miraculous (largely psychological) healing properties of magic pink medicine, as that would really be shooting myself in the foot, “but if you are very poorly, you need a doctor, and sometimes if you are very, very poorly, the doctor needs to look after you in a hospital. So Auntie R is going to sleep there tonight, and we’ll visit her tomorrow.”

“Auntie R can read me a story tomorrow in the hospital?”

“Yes, I think so. If she’s feeling up to it.”

I read the story. It is mercifully short. As I turn out the light and adjust the door so that it lets in just enough light to keep whatever nocturnal demons Tadpole now seems to fear at bay. As I inch sideways through the gap, Tadpole raises herself upright in bed, clutching dolly to her chest.



“I feel very, very poorly. I want to go to the hospital.”

* * * * * * * * *

The next day sees us sitting around Auntie R’s bed, an assortment of Mr Men books strewn across the covers, attempting to make cheerful conversation. I attempt to block out the rasping sounds of an elderly lady being violently sick behind a flowery curtain in the corner of the ward, and manage to catch Tadpole just as she attempts to yank Auntie R’s drip tube out of a machine administering fluids. Upon closer inspection, I see that the contraption bears a sticker with the reassuring words “do not use after Aug 06”.

When a nurse comes to take a blood sample, Tadpole is fascinated.

“Look mummy! It’s a piqure just like in my doctor’s bag!” she says, not phased by the sight of dark brown blood filling up a test tube, while my sister’s complexion fades even paler, competing with the starched white of the hospital sheets.

One hour and twenty chocolate buttons later, we leave the hospital with my mother, pathetically relieved to have averted several possible Tadpole meltdowns during our visiting slot.

After bath time, I hug my daughter to me more tightly than usual. Seeing my mother’s face as she sat helpless by her youngest daughter had got me thinking about how I would feel if it was Tadpole in a hospital bed, and I was powerless to make things better.

“Mummy?” says Tadpole, running little fingers through my hair. Little fingers which then encounter a knot and tug rather painfully, causing my eyes to water.


“Can we go to the hospital now and give Auntie R some magic pink medicine?”

*calpol, or doliprane – somehow, regardless of the country, paracetamol syrup always seems to be pink and taste the same.

October 23, 2006

mouse trap

Filed under: misc, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 3:30 pm

I am beginning to rue the day that I allowed Tadpole to sit on my white chair, adjusted to its highest setting, and taught her how to use a mouse. Within minutes, with the help of the CBeebies website and, in particular, the Teletubbies section, Tadpole had grasped not only how to move the location of the arrow around on the screen, but also how to click. Mastery of click and drag was not far behind.

Suddenly a whole new virtual world was open to her, where she was able to colour in pictures without getting felt tip pen on her fingers and sleeves, play simple interactive games and navigate freely around children’s websites, only coming unstuck if she accidentally executed a right click and was suddenly faced with an incomprehensible grey menu (she can’t read yet) or if she had the misfortune to select a game which required use of the arrow keys (a leap too far, at the moment).

On that first day, I sat patiently by her side, showing her what to do, where to click, and generally giving her encouragement. We built an adventure playground with Bob the Builder, watched a Dora The Explorer adventure and sang with the Tweenies. On the second day, I opened a book and had a sneaky read while she clicked away by my side, looking up once in a while to check that she hadn’t strayed from her CBeebies playground, to, say, buy a car on ebay, or delete a string of comments from my blog. On the third day I let her loose on the internet whilst I made her dinner next door, popping back in whenever her yelp of frustration indicated that she had got herself stuck somewhere and couldn’t work out how to navigate back to the main menu.

But on the fourth day, parental pride and the novelty of having something new to bribe her with (“you can have a go on the computer, but only if you are a good girl”) gave way frustration, jealousy and a whole host of jittery withdrawal symptoms.

“Ping,” goes the sound of an incoming message on gmail chat, in another firefox tab, tantalisingly invisible.

“Sweetie, can mummy look at her message? That noise means there’s a message…”

“NO! I clicking! I not finished yet,” says Tadpole in a voice which leaves little room for debate.

I pace around the apartment, trying hard to contain my curiosity, wondering whether the message was from a friend or an admirer. What have I missed?

“How about mummy puts the Mr Men on the television?” I suggest, finally convinced I have hit on a viable alternative to clicking.

“No. I want to play Mr Men on the comPUter! Not the television. I want to CLICK!” replies Tadpole, remembering the official website where she had watched Mr Greedy and guests having a birthday food fight.

I retire, crestfallen, to the kitchen to make a calming cup of tea and plot my next move. I don’t think I had realised until now just how often I sneak a couple of minutes to check my email, my comments, or have a quick chat, but now, suddenly, my daughter has the power to cut me off from the outside world for half an hour at a time. Now, every time my fingers so much as stretch towards the keyboard, a little person drops whatever she is doing, a leg is flung over mine, and she tries to clamber onto my knee, comandeers the mouse with her small fingers and refuses to relinquish it.

Finally, Tadpole has found my achilles heel. God help me.

October 17, 2006


Filed under: good time girl, single life — petiteanglaise @ 9:44 pm

It is Saturday evening, a little after 10 p.m. My gmail status – currently one of the most reliable windows into my soul – reads “manshopping”.

Despite the fact that it is a Tadpole-free weekend, somehow I have managed not to sort something out for Saturday night. My inconsiderate friends have watertight alibis: in Australia, watching the rugby at the Stade de France, having friends over to stay. There has been a text message exchange with an antipodean boy I haven’t seen for a while, but even that trail seems to have gone cold.

The previous evening, a “quiet night in” to eat curry with friends spontaneously combusted into an all night chatfest, after which I slept on the couch, stayed for both a (midday) breakfast and an afternoon tartiflette. This should have made me feel better about the small gap in my weekend entertainment schedule. Should have, but hasn’t. I’m bored and borderline desperate. Although slightly hung over, and with my right nostril dripping accusingly, I still feel the need to get out. I crave company.

And so I sit in front of my computer feeling lonely, and it’s probably no coincidence that I’m back on an internet dating site for the first time since May, looking to see whether the shelves of the supermarket of sleaze have been re-stocked since my last visit. A cup of tea steams by my side and I frown at it, wishing I could wave Tadpole’s fairy wand and turn it into a medicinal mojito. My skin is rosy pink, fresh from a short, hot soak in the smallest bath in the world (TM); my towelling bathrobe keeps sliding off my dejectedly drooping shoulders.

Thankfully a girlfriend is home alone too, and available to chat:

a: In on a Saturday, duckling? Everything alright?
me: No! Bored. And ever so slightly man-achey.
a: Man-achey?
me: I need a man for, er, stuff
Wow. The pinnacle of articulacy. I’m sure you can see why I got a book deal now?

[A six minute gap. I start to worry.]

me:I scared you off? You went to fetch a toy? Or your best Gainsbourg impression?
a drink
but less
you know

We shoot the breeze for a while, and then I plead fatigue, stick the kettle on for the last brew of the day, cast around for a DVD to watch in bed. Suddenly my mobile phone trills. It is the occasional antipodean boy. He sounds tipsy, and slurs something apologetic about his phone battery and the lateness of the hour. He is in Ménilmontant, it transpires. In a bar, with a big group of male friends. Would I like to join them?

I look at my tea, my bathrobe, and back at my tea again. It’s a ten minute walk, I would need another ten or so to make myself presentable. Hmm. A big group of male friends, he said?

* * * * * * * * *

The next day, my gmail status reads “itch duly scratched”.

a: good GOD
did you hire a male prostitute or something?
or am I going to deeply regret that question?

October 12, 2006

growing pains

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 9:31 pm

“Soon, I’m going to grow into a big lady, jus’ like you,” says Tadpole, between forkfuls of rice. “I’m going to be thirty-ten years old – not yet, but in a little while – and then I can be able to touch the lights and the ceiling.” She stretches her arms high above her head to demonstrate. I decide against pointing out that I can’t actually reach the lights or the ceiling at the grand old age of thirty four, not wanting to burst her bubble, and take a sip of lukewarm tea instead.

I wonder what it is that makes my daughter so desperate to grow up. “Stay young!” I want to say. “Enjoy pre-school! Don’t wish your life away.” There are days when I would happily trade places. I could go to the maternelle and spend a day looking at picture books, playing in the kitchen corner, getting kissed by the small Chinese boy who simply won’t leave the girls alone, or drawing pictures with brightly coloured felt tip pens. Instead, I spend hours chasing tax forms, cleaning, buying groceries, procrastinating, feeling guilty about procrastinating or staring at a computer screen and wondering whether I’m writing well. Or not.

“When I’m a lady,” Tadpole continues, “I’m going to touch all your things.” I raise my eyebrows, remembering an altercation which ended in tears earlier when she made off with my bag and all its precious contents. “I’m going to buy something in a shop,” she continues, “and put you in the bath. And put the dryer on. And hang up the clothes.”

Put like this, my life sounds truly fascinating. I suppose Tadpole doesn’t get to see many of the fun things I do, like drinking lots of gin and tonic or dancing to electro, as they invariably happen when she is elsewhere. The result being that I don’t particularly like my life as seen through Tadpole’s eyes. I’ll have to set her straight, one day, when she is all grown up.

“And will you be able to read my bedtime stories when you are thirty-ten?” I enquire.

“No, I don’t know how to read stories, mummy,” Tadpole says, in a tone which makes it quite clear I am an imbecile for even suggesting such a thing. “I’m not grown up like a lady yet, but I’m going to eat rice and peas mixed up together and that makes me grow quicker and mucher bigger like you. So I’ll grow a bit soon, in two holidays. After the weekend, and Christmas. Tomorrow. That’s going to take two months so we have to wait a minute!”

I am left hoping that she will grow up soon enough to catch my head when it falls off, and to drive me to casualty to have it stitched back on again.

October 8, 2006


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 9:48 pm

“I’ve got a 45 minute window of opportunity this weekend,” I write, “so I’ll be at the café on the corner of the Square Bolivar from 3:30, and if I see you there, great, if I don’t, no worries.”

It is my weekend with Tadpole, so, as a rule, I only see friends with children Tadpole’s age, or occasionally a girlfriend, for lunch or a stroll in the park. The only respite comes during her scheduled Music Appreciation Class, which takes place on Saturday afternoons at a nearby Centre de Loisirs. Even that might not actually happen, as there is something not quite right with Tadpole at the moment: a temperature which flares up every few days without any other discernible symptoms, troubled sleep, frequent nightmares and odd mood swings. But when the time comes, Little Miss Stubborn insists she wants to go. I am rather relieved.

By 4 p.m. I’ve given up on seeing him, engrossed in my book, an empty coffee cup by my side. A man at a neighbouring table hurls unwanted ice cubes from his empty glass towards the gutter and misses, hitting a parked car with a clatter, much to my amusement. The culprit catches my eye; I see panic flicker across his face, momentarily.

Ce n’est pas votre voiture, j’espère?” he says, gesturing towards the car with his bottle of juice.

Non, non. Vous en faites pas…” I reply with a grin.

As I return nose to book, I’m vaguely conscious of a stocky figure crossing my line of vision and glance sideways in surprise, wondering what would possess a stranger to choose the seat directly next to mine when there are so few customers this afternoon. But it is my friend, trying to make me jump out of my skin, and I set my book down with a smile.

The page was turned long ago, but I still feel a rush of affection. I’m drawn to his wit, his mannerisms; it’s hard to resist the temptation to touch his glossy dark hair. Often, when I see someone I once cared about, I can no longer see that magic thing which made them, fleetingly, so attractive, causing me to seriously question the wisdom of my judgements. But in this case I still feel an irresistible pull, a fact I find reassuring. Setting my foot on my chair, I clasp my arms around my bent knee in a pose which is meant to be nonchalant, casual, but is probably textbook defensive body language.

Tadpole’s music class is already drawing to a close, so I decide to fetch my daughter and bring her back to the café for a few minutes, praying she will behave. Approaching, my hand in hers, I suddenly feel confused about how to act. Being with someone who is unaccustomed to seeing me as a mother has thrown me. I’m used to keeping the two spheres of my life completely separate; leading a compartmentalised life. When the two overlap, I suddenly find I no longer know how to behave. I regain my seat, self-consciously; Tadpole positions herself opposite, doodling in my diary with a pencil.

It soon becomes clear that any semblance of adult conversation is now futile: Tadpole’s charm offensive has begun. Mis-hearing my friend’s name, and oblivious to our corrections, she calls him “Angel”. And she will not leave poor Angel alone. First come the questions. A barrage of. Next, she jumps down from her seat and sidles up to him, purposefully, flashing her brightest smile. Not one to beat around the bush, moments later she begs him for a hug (duly administered, albeit a little stiffly), a kiss (less successful) and on the walk home she insists on holding his hand. The icing on the cake, when he pops in to inspect my new flat, is my daughter using him as a climbing frame (foot almost, but not quite, connecting with family jewels), and counters our protests by crying “but my daddy lets me do that?!”

I feel painfully awkward on “Angel’s” behalf, wondering what he is thinking. Either he is wondering how to extricate himself from the situation, but too polite to make his excuses and slip away, or he is genuinely enjoying Tadpole’s attentions. I have no idea which.

As for the “daddy” comment, is it inevitable that every man Tadpole meets in my company will be seen by her as a surrogate father? The thought saddens, but also terrifies me.

When he leaves, a departure I have engineered on the pretext of a errand we need to run before dinner time,Tadpole howls her disappointment, but I feel only relief.

Finally I can shrug off the self-consciousness and get back to the business of just being a mother.

October 5, 2006


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 4:07 pm

Now, this isn’t a proper post, but forgive me, I just want to harness the power of the interweb for a moment to help me make a momentous (and currently theoretical) decision.


I like both, because they are pretty. And powerful. And lithe. But I’m sure there are other criteria I haven’t even thought of.

Main functions: pretending to write book in internet cafés/on the go, when in fact chatting on gmail. Playing Mr Men DVD’s for Tadpole on train journeys. And yes, I realise I won’t exactly be pushing either of these to the limits, but, well, I deserve a nerdtastic little present, don’t I?

For once, I’m actually soliciting your advice.

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